death by a million paper cuts

March 11, 2012

I avoided discomfort for most of my life. Now I’m learning to sit in it–to walk through it, not around it–but I still had the idea that discomfort would only come in waves. Ebb and flow. Easy then hard, then easy then hard. Like life was like a carousel moving slowly with the scenery changing from good to bad.

It seemed like people take their turns, you know? That their seasons are marked with Joy or Pain, one or the other. It looks like that, when you’re a child because you hear about the Big Things but adults don’t really talk to you about all the constants. And it looks like that as an adult because we compare a lot and comparing makes everything seem big and black and white and one way or the other.

I’m finally learning, since I can’t escape it anymore, that discomfort is there all the time. Of course it comes in differing degrees but pain is pain and so we learn to do something with it. Something. Anything.

Boredom. Fatigue. Irritation. Impatience. Loud. Endless repetitive tasks.

Over the past seven years our family has had our share of Big Things, too. What I’m learning about myself now is that I’m capable of sitting with those, walking through what’s required of me to stand up and keep going and support the people I love. I’m good at big messes. I’m good during tragedy. I rise up. I’ve known for a long time that the smaller things are what have a better chance of beating me. I have a tendency to bow to them. To act like the daily grind is trying to kill me.

I’m going through these uncomfortable physical changes that brought on depression and anxiety and weird other symptoms and one of them is itchy skin. My hands have broken out in some sort of exzema that won’t go away no matter what I do. My hands itch and then split, my skin a minefield of little tiny cuts. Pretty much anytime I straighten my fingers or open wide my hands, I feel another rip and look to see another red crack.

It’s uncomfortable.

So often I turn my hands over to look at them and I think of Ellie, my sister-friend with cancer and how much she’s going through. Not only does this give me perspective, but it also comforts me to know how full of grace she is. She is the kind of person that says “Pain is pain. I’m sorry your hands are driving you crazy.”  It also makes me smile to think of her when looking at my hands because before we knew of her cancer and before all the things I’ve been going through, many of which I haven’t mentioned here, we had this joke: Death by a million paper cuts. Because sometimes that’s what life feels like.

I feel like I have a million paper cuts, and I’m not just talking about my hands.

Yesterday I thought a lot about drinking. The way that it would cause that click in my head that changed my brain funk. I was so addicted to that feeling. Now I know I was self medicating, because postpartum or not, tubal ligation symptoms or not, hormonal or not, I’m an alcoholic. I would pass the click and lose sight of the off switch and binge. Sometimes I still can’t believe it, that I’m the “A” word, and those are the times that I still want it so much and I still can’t believe I haven’t had it in so long because I can taste it and smell it and see the legs on the glass and hear the glug of the bottle and I salivate. Then my addict brain goes all on its own to thinking of fun and easy times, of feeling more at ease and getting the damn hamster off the wheel in my head. It tells me that I was more fun with a couple of glasses of wine and it tells me that I had the best conversations over a bottle or two with a friend. It tells me that life is hard and wine helps. It tells me that I need a buffer, a break, something. Anything.

I don’t fall for the tricks because I know better, but it’s hard. It’s hard to be in recovery and it’s hard to be in life, so much of the time, when depression and anxiety are trying to paper cut you and keep you in your own head and scare you when you think about your friend with cancer or the other big things. I’m a creative soul and a part of me goes to sleep when there’s no time for goals outside of meeting the daily physical demands of my family. The sleeping part is sad.

So this is what it is to walk through even when you don’t feel so good. To just keep going because one day there will be more time and it will come so much faster than my addict brain would like to tell me. And this is what it means to know that you are not unhappy in your life even when you feel unhappy.

Yesterday I was driving to Target for diapers and I didn’t feel like it at all. I didn’t feel like doing anything but babies need diapers and so off we went. On the way home I made a choice. This will not be like the drive here, I said to me, because the drive there was a hamster wheel drive. And I chose to think about the seriously beautiful weather and the sounds that Elsie was making. I reached behind me and to her and waved my fingers like a little white flag and then I felt her soft little hand grab tight to my pointer like she was never going to let go and she made the happiest sound, like she does any time she isn’t touching me and then is again. Joy swelled.

This is my something. My anything. Everything. I sit in discomfort and see that I am being given life by a million tiny gifts, even when all I can see and feel are the paper cuts. The carousel is turning ’round and now I see that it isn’t slowly moving from Pain to Joy, it is always both and it’s fast like a blur with the most beautiful colors and if we just stay on, the miracle is that we move past going in circles and on to new places. The best places we couldn’t have dreamt up no matter how many hours we spent on the hamster wheel. So yeah, sometimes life is like death by a million paper cuts for our growth. It has to be, or we just go ’round and ’round.



Lexi March 11, 2012 at 11:04 am

I know you don’t feel brave, but you are. I’m not an addict but I do through similar waves of up and down with another disorder. One day at a time sister. :-)

laura @ hollywood housewife March 11, 2012 at 1:05 pm

“I’m a creative soul and a part of me goes to sleep when there’s no time for goals outside of meeting the daily physical demands of my family.”

What a perfect way to say this! Part of me goes to sleep, too, sometimes, and I’ve almost never been able to tell someone this without them expressing DEEP CONCERN. And it almost never merits DEEP CONCERN, I’m just saying what it feels like. I’m so glad I’m not the only one.
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Heather March 12, 2012 at 11:33 am

I’m so glad I’m not the only one, too, lady. Love you.

Julie @DutchBeingMe March 11, 2012 at 1:13 pm

What an amazing piece. Even though we each have our own, very different, stories – I feel this common bond with you – especially when you said at the beginning… “I’m finally learning, since I can’t escape it anymore, that discomfort is there all the time.”

I feel this so deeply within myself right now… but I’m feeling the need to change my attitude about things – to change the way I’m looking at things… and hope that I can find the joy in life again.
Julie @DutchBeingMe recently posted..Discovering Myself…

But Why Mommy March 11, 2012 at 2:08 pm

As always beautifully written. Sometimes it’s scary how you write what is in my head and in my soul but I guess that is the similarity behind alcoholism. Thanks for reminding “the miracle is that we move past going in circles and on to new places. The best places we couldn’t have dreamt up no matter how many hours we spent on the hamster wheel. ”
But Why Mommy recently posted..Breakdown

Heather March 12, 2012 at 11:35 am

It’s reassuring to hear I write what’s in someone’s head and heart. And yes, I think it’s definitely a connection that we alcoholics have…and one that anyone can relate to, since we’re all fighting this human struggle thing. I’m so grateful that we all get to do it together.


Kim Van Brunt March 11, 2012 at 2:20 pm

I feel like I held my breath this entire piece. Gorgeous heart work here. I saw myself in every line, every word. I’ve used the same descriptions the last few days — ebb and flow, circling round and round. I went to the convenience store last night for milk and bananas, completely defeated because I’m on the damn wheel and I almost couldn’t bring myself to do such a simple task.

Your words today help me see where I can find the light when all around is darkness and indifference. To choose joy when everything in me is screaming against it. Thank you for this. Your words are healing balm to my million paper cuts. Love to you.
Kim Van Brunt recently posted..Five minute Friday: Empty

Heather March 12, 2012 at 11:36 am

Everything in me screams against it too, a lot. I wish it weren’t so…but I think if we hold on…it’s going to change.

Amanda @ Click. The Good News March 11, 2012 at 2:46 pm

Just wanted to send my thoughts and prayers to you. I applaud your honesty & your courage to share your struggles. I think that alcohol usage is so common & part of our culture that we really have a distorted sense of what is normal and healthy relationship with alcohol.

Amanda @ Click. The Good News recently posted..Mom’s Retirement Party

Ann March 11, 2012 at 2:52 pm

Your ways with words are never-ending with truth and beautiful and make-me-think. Amazing how all the same words can be shaken an infinite number of ways inside this blogging kaleidoscope and show so many startling gorgeous variations.

I miss you. I love you. I wish I could focus on your for an entire day or weekend right now.
Ann recently posted..Cure for No Dinner (plus diagram fun)!

christine March 11, 2012 at 3:22 pm

As always, so beautiful and moving. So much of what is in my head, the always present discomfort, the spin around and around, the work to find the million tiny gifts.
christine recently posted..Project 365 Week 10 – In Which I am Super

Sherry March 11, 2012 at 3:30 pm

Ohhh, that picture of you two! It melts my heart into a big puddle. :)

Jeni March 11, 2012 at 5:45 pm

Thank you for sharing your story… for your honesty. I needed to hear about this today.

Jay Adams March 11, 2012 at 7:56 pm

I am an alcoholic myself. I’m inspired and encouraged by your blog posts. it will get better! thanks again.

rebecca @ altared spaces March 11, 2012 at 8:20 pm

I was just learning about pondering pleasure. I am becoming aware of how much I ponder pain without being mindful of that choice. I rehearse and rehearse the moments I mess up. I neglect to do the same for the moments that I’ve come to the aid of a friend by listening or reaching out to offer a hug. When I make lunches for my children I don’t practice over and over in my mind what an act of Grace that is.

I am more drawn to the paper cuts.

Until I pause.

And consider. As you have done here, that I can make a different choice. I can re-hear and re-see that moments of Beauty in my life simply by practicing them . I love this perspective. Thank you.
rebecca @ altared spaces recently posted..i want you to want it

Heather March 12, 2012 at 11:37 am

This is exactly what doesn’t come at all easily to me. I don’t think it comes very easy to anyone, but there are those of us who REALLY get in our own way. I needed your words. I always LOVE your perspective and graceful insight so much.

The Mommy Psychologist March 12, 2012 at 12:09 am

I absolutely understand…It’s been five years for me and there are days when I think about it every second of the day. I know the click. I miss the click.
The Mommy Psychologist recently posted..What if He’s the Next President?

Heather March 12, 2012 at 11:38 am

I hate missing the click, but it is what it is, I suppose. Those are the hardest days, when the idea of the click just won’t stop tapping your shoulder. Thank God we can get through and have so many other days that don’t feel like that.


Michelle March 12, 2012 at 2:18 am

“I’ve known for a long time that the smaller things are what have a better chance of beating me. I have a tendency to bow to them. To act like the daily grind is trying to kill me.”

I know exactly this feeling. The big things are much easier targets. The little things easily evade my aim.
Michelle recently posted..sunday in my city: potrero hill/mission

Wendy March 12, 2012 at 10:49 am

Wow! Once again, you have captured such a true feeling into words! I love how you have turned it around. I love how you made the choice on the ride home to do this with Ellie. I can feel her squeezing your finger too and making that noise. I have a 20 month old son who wants me all the time. I look down at him and smell his hair, feel his skin. it is intoxicating. I could and do get overwhelmed with how much he wants/needs me, but then I think this is temporary. I love how you are able to express this. thanks for your blog. Love it!
Wendy recently posted..Freaking out

TheKitchenWitch March 12, 2012 at 11:39 am

Powerful stuff.
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Natasha March 12, 2012 at 11:46 am

I am a mother of 3 and a alcoholic so I can totally relate to what you wrote. It is so get on the hamster wheel and let the negative thoughts consume us, For me when I am driving is when it happens the most. I have so many blessings and amazing gifts since I’ve gotten sober. My life today is so much more then I ever would have thought it would be. Thanks for this blog! I love it! Have a blessed day!!


tara pohlkotte March 12, 2012 at 12:13 pm

these words. these admissions of allowing life to move through you, both backwards and forwards. These words allow for breaths of life to embed in others. Thank you for both confirming my life for all of the pieces I feared were only mine, and for allowing me to see into the heart of life for others in a way I have never known.
tara pohlkotte recently posted..A Letter To My Daughter

Jennifer March 12, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Heather: Beautifully said. My hands chap and crack and bleed all the time from the constant hand-washing. I smiled as I read your post because last night, in the bath, while reading Don Miller, I was actually thinking about writing a post about my hands. Stay tuned, I’m going to work on it.

But for now, I’m so glad you have such strength to stay sober. You are doing a phenomenal job. You are an inspiration, in so many ways.
Jennifer recently posted..Psych ward socks

kendal March 12, 2012 at 8:21 pm

i love your transparency. my addcition was anorexia. i know admitting. i know fighting the people who wanted me better. i know choosing to get better. and i know those deep dark tempting times. but i also know the joy of choosing LIFE even if it comes with paper cuts. great post.
kendal recently posted..what the forsythia knows

Elaine March 12, 2012 at 10:58 pm

I feel like I’m going round and round a lot too…

I love that photo of you two together.

Elaine recently posted..A new bed for you and you and YOU! / MEM

Galit Breen March 13, 2012 at 5:58 am

This is stunning.

One I want to keep close to my heart.

(I’m mostly speechless here, which *really* says something!)

Galit Breen recently posted..Inspired

Peg March 13, 2012 at 8:29 pm

Thank you for your words. I call it being beaten to death by a million marshmallows. I feel like it every day. My joy comes from a smile from my five year old, the sound of our middle schoolers singing a silly song together and a hug from my “I’m too big for hugs now” ten year old. They keep me grounded and from NOT hiding under the covers all day.

Thanks again. Your words make me feel not so alone.
Peg recently posted..At a Loss…

Suzy June 18, 2012 at 7:37 pm

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this- it is how I feel sometimes . Very insightful!

Kathryn at Good Life Road June 21, 2012 at 9:05 pm

Ooh this is just so goooood: “So yeah, sometimes life is like death by a million paper cuts for our growth. It has to be, or we just go ’round and ’round.” It reminds me of something Caroline Knapp said in her memoir about drinking, that when a person starts drinking they stop maturing in a way, it stunts our development. Drinking feels like we’re moving past something but we’re not. Like you say, we’ll just come circling on back. Beautiful post.

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